Editor’s Note: in this final post, guest blogger Anne Moore goes “downmarket”– leaving behind the 19th-century novel and the “quality” TV drama to talk about the feminized form of the soap opera and its codependent female fans.
In my last two posts, I spent a lot of time thinking through the relationship between narrative closure and narrative “addiction”—the boundary of closure is the thing that offers the promise of the high that the reader is chasing. In soaps, however, closure is radically different. Unlike novels or mysteries, both of which are structured around a final limit, soaps operate on the assumption that closure will never arrive. Specific plots come to a tentative end, but even the hard limit offered by a character’s death or an actor leaving the show is not enough to permanently tie up a storyline. Whether it’s Steve “Patch” Johnson returning to Days of Our Lives after a sixteen-year absence or a brief blurb on the bottom of the screen informing us that “the character of Jack Abbot will now be played by Peter Bergman” on The Young and the Restless, the narrative momentum of daytime soaps overpowers any limit that might force closure in another genre.
There’s a clear division in terms of prestige between the “addictive” narratives I’ve been examining over the course of the last two weeks: if The Wire is like AA, daytime soap operas are Al-Anon. And just like it’s much cooler to be an addict than a codependent, soaps are definitionally excluded from Quality Television. “Soapiness” is used as a negative term for melodrama or a marker that a show has deviated from the commitment to gritty realism that is the marker of “quality.” Soaps are excessive, over-the-top, and, since they were designed for housewives to watch while also doing chores, don’t demand the same kind of close attention or intellectual engagement as their nighttime counterparts.However, viewers’ devotion to soaps demonstrates that the “addiction” metaphor makes as much sense for soaps as it does for a show like The Wire. The question then becomes this: if there’s no promise of narrative payoff, what keeps the viewer/addict coming back day after day, week after week?
This is where the model of addiction offered up by Al-anon starts to look more relevant. Within a traditional model of addiction, the drug user pursues a final limit that might offer some relief from craving: if only I had enough drugs/alcohol/money/food/answers, I’d finally be satisfied. For the codependent, the limit isn’t a place to reach, but something to be transcended: if only I could break down the boundary between myself and the addict, I would be perfectly understood, could control his behavior, and would finally be satisfied. Within this feminine model of addiction, the distinction between self and other breaks down and ultimately loses its coherence.